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Not objects of scientific inquiry, but people-The Aboriginals

Unless we are botanists or exploring the evolution debates around Aboriginals, the last time any of us thought about Australia was when we could still hear “You’ve got mail,” issue from our desktops and watch Crocodile Dundee on VHS. It’s been over ten years since the World Olympics were held in Sydney. But now we have a reason to rediscover an island that is far more than a desert of beer-chugging “yobbos” who say “mate” and “cobber” and “fair dinkum.”  The Land Down Under—rich with grandeur, culture, and austere beauty—but there is so much more behind all of it.

Who were the first Australians? Where did they come from? When and how did they arrive? What is their place in the global story of human evolution? For scientists, the origins of the Aboriginals have been burning questions for over 200 years.

Author Camilla Chance’s staggers through the baking outback to bring us “Wisdom Man,” the story of an Aboriginal elder who makes Crocodile Dundee look like Mickey Mouse. She puts aside the debates about what they might suggest for evolutionary debate, and approaches the Aboriginal people as if they are just that: people. And all this right around the time Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Aboriginals for years of abuse and oversight. “Wisdom Man” tells the tale of Banjo Clarke, a man of great strength and heart who survived an era of racism, murder, and oppression only comparable to the American slave trade.

Imagine a city girl educated in London, Switzerland and Italy squatting around the same campfire as an Aborigine. It’s an odd pairing, but that’s exactly what “Wisdom Man” gives us…and brilliantly. Camilla was raised as an aristocrat in England and presented to the Queen and Prince Philip. Banjo was an Aboriginal in Australia and became a great leader. Yet these polar opposites became best friends around the same conviction: love always wins. The frankness and detail of the text draws us in campfire-style, and the unhurried pace is captivating.  It turns out there’s more dangerous things Down Under than snakes, crocodiles, box jellyfish and toxic caterpillars:  people who do not love.

When we think about the botany, the almost literal un-evolution of the crocodile (a perfectly engineered remnant from the Age of the Dinosaur), or the people from Down Under, at first we might feel like we’re wrong side up. Australia’s seasons go in the reverse order, its constellations are upside down, the country was launched as a one big prison house surrounded by austere outback. But it is perhaps we who are upside down. Banjo Clarke’s story is anything but backwards. His poignant perspective clears the clutter and sheds light on darkness.

You might hear about how Australia was colonized from what are now Indonesia and Malaysia. You might also hear about how fossils of Homo erectus were found in Java in the 19th century by Eugene Dubois, who proposed they were possible ancestors of the first Australians. You might also hear that research has established this Homo erectus to be in Java 1.74 million years ago. But all of this hypothesizing builds a secular story around a people who are mythic, and who cannot be reduced to scientific inquiry, however fascinating.

When we put aside our questions of evolution and science, to hear what these people say we cannot walk away without a sense of enlargement, hope, enrichment—and yes, wisdom. For example, for them there is no mystery to their origins. They have a rich creative myth. They have always been where they are. Nor is the timing of their origins important. According to some indigenous beliefs, the Aboriginal ancestors were created in the Dreaming Period, when humans and the earth were formed. The Dreaming integrates past, present and future in a way that makes chronology a concept of little significance.

We don’t need to go “down under” to begin learn more about the fascinating tales of a people largely overlooked. We only need to hear the voice of a people who have something truly beautiful to share. And that’s exactly what “Wisdom Man” gives us: a view into the love and thought of the Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal elder, Banjo Clarke-Wisdom Man


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This entry was posted on Saturday, January 14th, 2012 at 11:09 am and is filed under Clients, Friends and Colleagues, Industry News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Not objects of scientific inquiry, but people-The Aboriginals”

  1. R. Chandler Says:

    Camilla and I are sister friends, Sherri. Tx for this reminder of her important biography of a ‘wisdomekeeper’.

  2. Sherri Rosen Says:

    Thank you Robin. Camilla once told me this was her mission “a wisdomkeeper”. When she said that to me I realized that my work has been to giving her a powerful voice with that wisdom. It’s been an honor for me to be working with her over the past, I believe, 12 years. It’s been so long it’s hard to remember when we first began.

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